"It's All About the Research"

The McDonough B-school's Beth Miertschin expounds on what makes a successful job interview

Beth Miertschin has been the assistant director of Employment Relations & Corporate Outreach at Georgetown University's Robert Emmett McDonough School of Business in Washington, D.C., since August, 2004. Before joining Georgetown, Miertschin worked at Enron as corporate recruiter of MBA students.

Miertschin says students who perform best in interviews are generally most successful in the overall job search. She recently spoke with BusinessWeek Online reporter Jeffrey Gangemi. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation:

Q: What's the No. 1 piece of advice you give students starting their job search?


Our main job is to help students discover what they're good at. Instead of saying, "Be true to yourself," I say, "Be true to your skills."

Q: How do you help students narrow down the focus in their search?


Once we have them thinking about a career path, we have them meet with career advisers, a group of eight second-year students who each have expertise in a given industry. We also have an event called Career Extravaganza with six panels, each consisting of high-level executives from a given industry, where students get to hear about what it's like to work in a variety of industries.

Q: What's the biggest mistake that MBAs make in the job search?


They often don't spend enough time on it. Many of them think that because they are getting an MBA, jobs are going to come to them, or that the on-campus recruiters are going to find them and offer them jobs. They are often surprised by how much of their own time and work they have to put in.

Q: Is on-campus recruiting back?


About 60% of our students found employment through on-campus recruiting last year. We're on track this year to stay about the same, which is where we want to be. Our on-campus recruiting was up 54% this fall over last year.

Q: How do you teach interviewing?


We keep notes on all of the companies that come to campus. Students complete a short survey after they interview with each company, so we have a pretty good idea of what types of interviews to expect from any given company that has interviewed here before. To help students learn their strengths and weaknesses, we bring successful alumni from all across the country back to Georgetown for a weekend, twice a year.

Current students can sign up for interview slots with them. Students show up in a suit, just like for a real interview, and are graded on a number of different categories. We personalize our counseling sessions based on the data gathered from these alumni mock interviews.

Q: What's a good tip for interviewing?


Prepare, prepare, prepare. It's definitely all about research. The thing I hear most often from recruiters these days is that they want to know why a student wants that specific job. It's not enough to go into a Goldman Sachs (GS ) interview and tell them you want to go into investment banking. You have to go in there and tell them why you want to work for Goldman Sachs and not Merrill Lynch (MER ). Then you have to make that case.

Q: Are certain MBAs having more success in the job search than others?


Those who are most successful in their interviews are most successful in the whole job search. They've done their research, they've identified their goal, and they've developed a way to reach their goal. They are the people who have a plan and are all willing to spend the necessary time to set themselves apart.

Q: How do you differentiate your MBAs from those at other B-schools?


The international piece at Georgetown really sets us apart. Aside from international students accounting for 40% of our enrollment, all students participate in a global consulting project that they conduct abroad in one of five locations around the world. Also, 80% of this year's incoming class has foreign language proficiency, although it is not a requirement.

Q: Which recruiting companies have the best relationship with you?


We have a great relationship with Citigroup (C ) -- all the different divisions there, from investment banking to marketing. Booz Allen, Corporate Executive Board, JPMorgan (JPM ), Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers (LEH ), and AES (AES ), an emerging-markets company, are all very good partners. Georgetown is considered a hidden gem for the investment banks, but we're also a real gem for our marketing program. It's a real growth area for us.

Q: How does your previous position at Enron affect your current job?


Enron used to be one of the largest MBA recruiters, and Georgetown was one of the core schools for recruiting. It's a big help, because I've been on the other side and know what recruiters are looking for from our office, so it gives me a little more credibility from that end. The students know that Enron used to be a corporate partner here.

I was there during the fall of the company, and we had to rescind offers made to some of the students. I tell students that things really are better and that no one is rescinding offers now. It always gets a reaction when I tell them that I worked at Enron, but I don't ever speak on the topic of business ethics or anything like that. I think that those corporate scandals have taught all of us a lot about the importance of ethics.

Q: How do you serve international students?


We work with other schools to put together a list of all the companies that have hired international students in the last year and reach out to those companies aggressively. We also take global treks to meet with international companies at their headquarters. We bring in immigration attorneys and international specialists to talk about all the different types of visas and how to be most effective in attaining one.

Q: What is your placement percentage and how do you see that changing?


Last year 88% of graduates had an offer three months after graduation. The mood among second-year students is positive this year. Many of them have multiple offers, and we are absolutely on track to meet or surpass where we were last year. Starting salaries are up as well, and companies are willing to negotiate. Signing bonuses are back as well; the median so far is $22,000. This is all good news for the job market.

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